Accepted paper:

Situating design in a mobile phone research intervention to train Kenyan health workers: the design-reality gap as a lateral concept


Jade Vu Henry (UCL Institute of Education)
Niall Winters (University of Oxford)
Martin Oliver (UCL Institute of Education)

Paper short abstract:

I deploy the "theory of design-reality gaps" as a lateral concept to situate design in a globally-distributed mobile phone intervention for Kenyan health workers. This generates more nuanced understandings of gaps, sustainability, scalability, materiality, project failure and desired social change.

Paper long abstract:

"It is not the prerogative of the (STS) scholar to conceptualize the world," assert Gad and Jensen, "all our 'informants' do it too" (2016, p. 3). Lateral concepts create "the possibility of enriching our own conceptual repertoires by letting them be inflected by the concepts of those we study" (Ibid., p.3). I deploy the "theory of design-reality gaps" (Heeks, 2002) from the empirical domain of Information Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) as a lateral concept to trace the locations, circulations, and value claims of design practice in a globally-distributed research intervention for Kenyan health workers. Weaving this lateral concept on ICTD project failure with post-structural material-semiotic tools and classic actor-network theory, I demonstrate empirically how the design-reality gap in this mobile learning project was not so much a matter of geographic or socio-cultural divides, but was instead constituted as fluid space (Mol, 2002) separating the researchers' designerly practices from the multiplicity of ways in which health workers, mobile phones, and other actors lived in relation to one another. At least six different patterns of sociomaterial relations operated through a given set of people and things, enacting the competing material-discursive apparatuses (Barad,1998) of educational research, healthcare, the market, the state, and the local community. By deploying the theory of design-reality gaps as a lateral concept, design practices of researchers were located in relation to this fluid space, allowing for more nuanced discussions of gaps, sustainability, scalability, materiality, project failure, and the contested material-semiotics of social change.

panel B07
Situating designs